Saturday, 27 February 2016

Voices (A Reykjavík Murder Mystery) by Arnaldur Indriðason

Paperback:  It is a few days before Christmas and Reykjavík hotel doorman, occasional Santa Claus and long-time resident of its basement, Gudlauger, has been found stabbed to death in his room in a sexually compromising position.  With the hotel fully booked, the hotel manager is determined to keep the murder from his guests and his reputation intact but Detective Erlendur quickly discovers that the placidly affluent appearance of the hotel covers a multitude of sins.

It soon becomes apparent that both staff and guests have something to hide, but it is the dead man who has the most shocking secret:  many years previously he was the most famous child singer in the country.  Two old 45s on which he had sung have become prized collectors' items.  Is it this brush with stardom that has led to his death?  Or is the murder a family matter, concerning the victim's estranged father and sister?

As Detective Elinborg investigates a separate case of child abuse, and Erlendur continues to struggle both with his troubled family relationships and the ghosts of his own youth, their parallel stories probe deeper into the riddle of this third Reykjavik Murder Mystery published in 2006.

About the author:  Arnaldur Indriðason worked for many years as a journalist and critic before he began writing novels.  Outside Iceland, he is best known for his crime novels featuring Erlendur and Sigurdur Óli, which are consistent bestsellers across Europe.  The series has won numerous awards, including the Nordic Glass Key and the CWA Gold Dagger.  In 2013, he won the world's most lucrative crime fiction award, the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing worth €125 000 for Skuggasund.  Arnaldur's books have been published in 26 countries and translated into at least 24 languages.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 26 February 2016

Silence of the Grave (A Reykjavík Murder Mystery) by Arnaldur Indriðason

Paperback:  Building work in an expanding Reykjavik uncovers a shallow grave.

Years before, this part of the city was all open hills, and Erlendur and his team hope this is a typical Icelandic missing person scenario; perhaps someone once lost in the snow, who has lain peacefully buried for decades.  Things are never that simple.

Whilst Erlendur struggles to hold together the crumbling fragments of his own family, his case unearths many other tales of family pain.  The hills have more than one tragic story to tell:  tales of failed relationships and heartbreak;  of anger, domestic violence and fear; of family loyalty and family shame.  Few people are still alive who can tell the story, but even secrets taken to the grave cannot remain hidden forever.

Silence of the Grave (2005) is the second book in the award-winning Inspector Erlendur series.  It won the Nordic Glass Key Award in 2003, the Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year 2005, and nominated for the Barry Award in 2006.

About the author:  Arnaldur Indriðason worked for many years as a journalist and critic before he began writing novels.  Outside Iceland, he is best known for his crime novels featuring Erlendur and Sigurdur Óli, which are consistent bestsellers across Europe.  The series has won numerous awards, including the Nordic Glass Key and the CWA Gold Dagger.  In 2013, he won the world's most lucrative crime fiction award, the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing worth €125 000 for Skuggasund.  Arnaldur's books have been published in 26 countries and translated into at least 24 languages.

Rating:  4/5

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

What Would...?

A Song of Shadows (A Charlie Parker Thriller) by John Connolly

Paperback:  What would your good do if evil didn't exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? - Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

Grievously wounded but unbroken, private investigator Charlie Parker faces the darkest of forces in a case with its roots in the Second World War, and a concentration camp unlike any other.

Recovering from a near-fatal shooting and tormented by memories of a world beyond this one, Parker retreated to the small Maine town of Boreas to recover.  There he befriends a woman named Ruth Winter and her young daughter.  But Ruth has her secrets.  Old atrocities are about to be unearthed, and old sinners will kill to hide their sins.  Now Parker is about to risk his life to defend a woman he barely knows, one who fears him almost as much as she fears those who are coming for her.

His enemies believe him to be vulnerable.  Fearful.  Solitary.

But they are wrong.  Parker is far from afraid and far from alone.

For something is emerging from the shadows.

A Song of Shadows (2015) is the thirteenth book in the supernatural and hair-raising albeit exceptionally riveting Charlie Parker series.  The next and fourteenth book in the series - A Time of Torment - will be out on 7 April 2016 in the UK and in July in the USA.

About the author:  John Connolly was born in Dublin in 1968.  His debut - Every Dead Thing (1999) - which introduced the character of private detective Charlie Parker, swiftly launched him right into the front rank of thriller writers, and all his subsequent novels have been Sunday Times bestsellers.  Books To Die For (2012), a nonfiction anthology, which he edited with Declan Burke, was the winner of the 2013 Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Critical/Biographical Book of the Year.  He is the first non-American writer to win the US Shamus award for Every Dead Thing.  In 2007 he was awarded the Irish Post Award for Literature.

Rating:  6/5

Friday, 19 February 2016

Blood Stain (True Crime) by Peter Lalor

Paperback:  It proves to be a morning that none of the cops, ambos or locals will ever forget.  A glimpse into the dark, cockroach corners of the soul.  A lot of the blokes there that day are never the same again.  There are murders and there are murders.  There are bodies and there are bodies, and then there is what lies waiting for Bob Wells - the senior investigating officer and one of the few to see the crime through from start to finish - the others behind the front door of this little brick house with its blinds drawn and air-conditioner working against the oppressive Hunter Valley (Australia) heat.

On 29 February 2000, Katherine Knight committed an unspeakable act.  A mother of four from three blokes and a grandmother who sang about the little piggy and the teddy bears, she seduced and then stabbed John Price 37 times.  A former abbatoir worker, she skinned him.  A loving partner, she cooked him with vegetables, making a soup with his head.  Made gravy.  Left him on plates for his family.  John Price's death is shocking beyond comprehension.  It defies the imagination.


Price was her de facto and he wanted out.  She did not like that.  It was her nature to go one step further.  To go over the borderline.

It is only later that the true horror of this begins to sink in.  The cold, calculated spite.  The layers of payback.  The fact that she has done all this and then cooked and served him for his children.

What of the woman who did it?  She must have been mad.  Of course she was.  The sane do not behave like that.  She was a monster.  Less than human, less than sentient.  Wasn't she?  It seemed important to us that she was because it was too horrible to contemplate otherwise.

People said that most of the time, Katherine Knight seemed normal and had a heart of gold.  Dressed her kids up and sent them to Sunday school.  Sewed dresses for friends' babies.  Visited the sick.  Ran people around in her car.  She would do anything for anyone, her family say.  Until she got angry.  You just didn't cross her.  She was judged to be legally sane - of right mind - when she committed a crime so horrible that the media shied away from the detail.  She planned it and she did it knowing that it was wrong.  It was all about revenge.  And possibly even pleasure.  And that is what makes this murder so worthy of examination.  To examine her past is not to give her an excuse.

How can somebody be so bad?  So immoral?  And yet...not be mad?

Journalist Peter Lalor covered the trial and wanted to know what made Knight go way over the borderline.  In this unflinching account - Blood Stain (2002) - he uncovers the layers of her dysfunction, opening the door of 84 St Andrews Street and taking us into the lives of Knight's ex-partners, her family, the world in which she was raised, and the locals of Aberdeen, New South Wales, Australia.

Katherine Knight is the first Australian woman serving a life sentence without parole and which she is never to be and will never ever be released.  In handing down her sentence, Justice Barry O’Keefe described her crime as premeditated and horrific, "evil actions" that indicated cognition, volition, calm and skill.

On 11 September 2006, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on Monday rejected Knight’s appeal against the sentence, which she claimed was manifestly excessive.  "This was such an appalling crime almost beyond contemplation in a civilized society," Justice Peter McClellan said in his written judgment.  The psychiatric evidence indicates that her personality is unlikely to change in the future and, if released, she would be likely to inflict serious injury or perhaps death on others, Justice McClellan said.

About the author:  Born in Bendigo, educated in Melbourne and later marooned in Sydney, Peter Lalor is an award winning author and journalist.  He has written a number of books including the best-selling Ned Kelly True Crime prize-winning Blood Stain, The Bridge (2005), a history of The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Barassi (2010), a personal portrait of Australian football's first born son.  A cricket writer and beer editor for The Australian newspaper, he has worked as a journalist for twenty-five years.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Fortune Hunter (True Crime) by Suzy Spencer

Paperback:  Multimillionaire Steven Beard Jr fell hard for Celeste Martinez, a shapely, blonde waitress who served him his nightly cocktail at the local country club in Austin, Texas, as well as sexual favours.

In 1995, the 70-year-old widow Beard married the 32-year-old mother of twin daughters and gave her homes, cars and more jewellery and designer clothes than she could ever wear.

But it was not enough for Celeste.

Claiming she was depressed, she checked into a psychiatric facility, where she met fellow patient Tracey Tarlton, a prominent bookstore manager.  Celeste seduced Tracey, convincing her that the only way they could be together would be to kill Steve.

In the wee hours of an October morning in 1999, former Austin television executive Steve Beard Jr awoke to a shotgun blast to his abdomen.  On 25 January 2000, Steve died, almost four months after he was shot.  He was 75.

Tracey was arrested but refused to implicate Celeste until she learned the truth about her lover.  In a sordid trial sensationalised even more by the antics of famed Texas defense attorney Dick DeGeurin, the depths of Celeste's lies were revealed in a tale of lust, betrayal and regret.

This new edition of The Fortune Hunter (2015) has been updated throughout.

Celeste Beard is now a convicted American murderer who is serving a life sentence at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas for the 1999 murder of her millionaire husband, Steven Beard.  She is Texas Department of Criminal Justice offender #1157250.  She will be eligible for parole in 2043, when she is 80 years old.  Tracey Tarlton received a 20-year sentence in exchange for testifying against Celeste Beard and was released on parole in August 2011 and currently lives in San Antonio, Texas.

About the author:  Suzy Spencer is the author of four true crime books - Wasted, a New York Times bestseller;  Wages of Sin, which was featured on the 2013 season premiere of Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Sins;  Breaking Point, the story of Houston mother Andrea Yates;  and The Fortune Hunter, which was called “riveting” and “blockbuster” by Globe magazine.

But after nearly ten years of writing true crime, Suzy desperately needed to laugh.  She thought writing about sex would help her do that.  So, in December 2004, Suzy began a journalistic investigation into Americans’ alternative sex practices.  The result is her most emotionally challenging book yet - Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality.

Secret Sex Lives, Suzy’s first memoir, was featured on Katie Couric’s talk show, Katie;  was named a Publishers Weekly fall 2012 pick in the memoir category, as well as a Barnes & Noble editor’s recommendation; and was featured twice at the 2012 Texas Book Festival.

In addition to Katie, Suzy’s been interviewed on Good Morning America, ABC World News, Primetime, and Dateline NBC;  numerous shows on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Court TV, and Investigation Discovery and on Oxygen and the E! Channel.

Suzy has freelanced for ABC News,, People magazine, the New York Post, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Los Angeles magazine, the Texas Observer, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Austin Chronicle.

She holds a Master of Professional Writing and a Master of Business Administration, both from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Baylor University.

Ethan Green Hawke, American Actor, Writer and Director

Cecil Whittaker "Ted" Trueblood, Outdoor Writer and Conservationist (1913-1982)

Does Anyone Read Like This?


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Human Library

While some libraries are ditching their books in favour of the laptops, e-readers, and mp3 players, there is one library that believes stories are much better shared when they come from the source.  At the Human Library, you actually borrow people.

The concept is simple - instead of checking out a book, you "borrow" a person who has stories to tell gathered from a unique life experience.  For half an hour, you can sit down with someone like a prostitute, a politician, or a funeral director, all of whom have incredible stories to share.. .and unlike a book, they're able to answer your questions and tailor the storytelling experience to you.


Neither Kernel Nor Shell

Monday, 8 February 2016

A Family Business (True Crime) by Ken Englade

Paperback:  This harrowing true story spanned from the 1980s to 1991.  When David Sconce, with his wide, easy smile, blond, curly hair, Paul Newman-blue eyes, and broad, solid shoulders - weightlifter's shoulders with the arms and chest to go along - appeared in Hesperia, Southern California, in the sizzling summer of 1986, he was considered a remarkable catch for the community.  A handsome, pleasant, bright and ambitious young entrepreneur, a Los Angeles yuppie who was intelligent enough to recognise Hesperia's potential.

Always a fast-talker, he told anyone who would listen that he was a young businessman trying to make his fortune by investing in the future.  And he was universally believed.  After all, he was a personable guy.

David told Hesperians that he had been searching throughout Southern California for a location for a small manufacturing plant he planned to build.  He was, he said, a manufacturer of heat-resistant tiles for the space shuttles, those little rectangles of ceramic material that cover the spacecraft like scales on a fish.  After a lot of looking, he decided that Hesperia was the place where he wanted to locate his production facility.

In October 1986, he secured a building permit from the city and erected a plain-looking oversized metal shed - his basic facility - which he surrounded with a tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.  The only way to enter the site was through a gate secured by a sturdy padlock.  The building itself was empty except for David's custom-made equipment:  two industrial-sized kilns, which David said he needed to bake the space shuttle tiles.  He christened the new business Oscar's Ceramics, naming it after his father-in-law.

That autumn, Oscar's Ceramics went into production but it was not making ceramic tiles.

There was one thing that was odd, and that was the smell.  On occasion, the odour that drifted down from Oscar's Ceramics was incredibly foul.  At times, a nauseating black smoke belched from the company's chimney and settled over that section of the community like a cloud from hell.  The smell was downright repulsive;  sometimes it seemed strong enough to shrivel a yucca.  When asked about this stench, David would shrug, flash his lopsided grin and apologize, explaining that he found it offensive too but it was one of the unfavourable by-products of his manufacturing process.  "Nothing I can do about it," he would say.  "Sorry."

In A Family Business (1992), acclaimed true crime author Ken Englade recounts one of the most horrifying and lurid cases in Californian history and exposes the twisted personalities of a fourth-generation funeral empire at the centre of the plot.  Mutilation of corpses, falsification of death certificates, theft of body parts and conspiracy to murder were just some of the  gruesome charges levelled against charming sociopath David Sconce and his cold, calculating parents, who would seemingly stop at nothing to destroy their rivals.

About the author:  Ken Englade is an investigative reporter and bestselling author whose books, dealing with high-profile trials, include Beyond Reason, To Hatred Turned, Cellar of Horror, A Family Business, Deadly Lessons, Murder in Boston, and Blood Sister.  He was a public information officer for the Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency.  In 2010, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Louisiana State University School of Mass Communications.  He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife Heidi.

Going Out For A Walk

What Do You Know, Eh?

Thursday, 4 February 2016

American Rust by Philipp Meyer

Paperback:  "...what we learn in time of pestilence:  that there are more things to admire in men than to despise." - Albert Camus

Set in a beautiful but dying Pennsylvania steel town, American Rust (2009) is a novel of the lost American dream and the desperation that arises from its loss.  It is the story of two young men bound to the town by family, responsibility, inertia and the beauty around them, who dream of a future beyond the factories, abandoned homes, and the polluted river.

Isaac is the smartest kid in town, left behind to care for his sick father after his mother commits suicide and his sister Lee moves away.  Now Isaac wants out too.  Not even his best friend, Billy Poe, can stand in his way:  broad-shouldered Billy, always ready for a fight, still living in his mother's trailer.

Then, on the very day of Isaac's leaving, something happens that changes the friends' fates and tests the loyalties of their friendship and those of their lovers, families, and the town itself.

Evoking John Steinbeck's novels of restless lives during the Great Depression, American Rust is an extraordinarily moving novel about the bleak realities that battle our desire for transcendence, and the power of love and friendship to redeem us.

American Rust is Meyer's first novel and won the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Economist Book of the Year, a Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year, and a New York Times Notable Book.

About the author:  Philipp Meyer grew up in a working class neighbourhood in Baltimore.  His mother is an artist;  his father taught college science for twenty years after working variously as a cabinet maker, electrician, and art installer.  The neighbourhood, Hampden, had been hit hard by the collapse of various heavy industries, and crime and unemployment were high.  Meyer attended city public schools until dropping out at age 16 and getting a GED.  He spent the next five years working as a bicycle mechanic and occasionally volunteering at Baltimore's Shock Trauma Centre.

At age 20, he began taking classes at a variety of colleges in Baltimore and decided to become a writer.  He also decided to leave his hometown, and at 22, on his third attempt at applying to various Ivy League colleges, he was admitted to Cornell University.  He graduated with a degree in English and a mountain of debt and headed for Wall Street to pay off his student loans.

After getting a job with the Swiss investment bank UBS, Meyer did training in London and Zurich and was assigned to a derivatives trading desk.  After several years at UBS, he had paid off most of his student loans and decided to pursue his dream of becoming a writer.  When his savings ran out, he took jobs as an emergency medical technician and construction worker.  He was preparing for a second career as a paramedic when he was admitted to the MFA program at the Michener Centre for Writers in Austin, Texas, where he was a James Michener Fellow.  While attending grad school he continued to do emergency medical work, driving to New Orleans just as Hurricane Katrina hit and working as an EMT during that storm.

Meyer's second novel, The Son (2013), was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in Literature.  So far, The Son has been on the bestseller list in six countries;  Meyer and the production company El Jefe are currently adapting it for AMC as a television show.

Meyer lives in Austin, Texas.

Rating:  5/5